Dilemma: Finding a Primary Care Physician
INTERESTING STUFF – 3 December 2016

Making New Friends in Old Age – Meditation No. 2

Friendship

Before I go any further with this post, let me say this:

I am pretty sure that if the TGB readers who comment here regularly enough so that we come to know one another as much as is possible through our words and phrases and opinions and jokes and ideas – and if we all lived in the same town, each of us could find at least one good friend among our number.

Alas. We are spread around the world.

Back in July, I posted a story - a meditation I called it - on making new friends in old age; you can read it here. Since then, several readers have emailed asking me to follow up.

The biggest takeaway from the comments in July was that with only a couple of exceptions, everyone who had something to say could use a friend.

Most of us had tried the list of suggestions that is repeated on thousands of advice websites. They appear to be fairly successful – if you are looking for an acquaintance. But not so much for a deeper friendship.

Several readers made an important point: that the kinds of experiences that help forge closer relationships don't show up with as much frequency in old age – things like college, first jobs, promotions, marriages, kid and yes, divorce, starting over, etc.

Navigating life events – the good and the bad – with another binds us together and strengthens connections that endure. They give us those "remember when..." moments we enjoy for years to come.

But there are fewer such opportunities when the children are gone, we are no longer in the workforce and we don't get out and about as much as when we were younger.

As to that list of suggestions for making new friends, one reader, Melanie Jongsma, offered this insight:

”I am [only] 49, and I recently lost my best friend. I'm not limited by mobility or health problems, and I've been intentional about working hard to make new friends.

“I do manage to keep myself busy, but activity is not the same as friendship. At some point I may have to simply concede that I will probably never have a 'best friend' again. Maybe that's ok.”

There are two takeaways for me from Melanie's note. First:

“Activity is not the same as friendship” is true. But re-reading everything from July – my post and all your comments – it struck me that it is useful, in making the effort to find a friend, to do it through a shared activity that keeps you engaged together but leaves a lot of room for conversation.

As reader Rosemary Woodel wrote:

”I go hiking with people I am just beginning to know so we have deeper conversations on the trail.”

Smart choice. It is important, I think, to find interests that create the space to talk one-on-one. Less physically ambitious events would work too. A movie, for example, if you are sure to include a meal or tea afterwards to talk over what you've watched together and let the conversation wander where it will from there.

The second point for me in Melanie's comment is this:

”I may have to simply concede that I will probably never have a 'best friend' again. Maybe that's ok.”

As much as I find old age to be the most interesting time of life, even I must admit that among all the gratifications and pleasures, there is loss, and the death of relatives and friends is among the hardest.

But those tragedies come with the gift of life and there is nothing to do but grieve, each in our way, and then to keep moving forward. Lots of things change in old age and it is possible that for some of us the idea of a “best friend” is better suited to youth.

Perhaps old age, commonly a period of personal reflection which requires some amount of time alone, doesn't have as much room for the continuous sharing of best friends. Maybe we are asking too much of ourselves and of a potential friend – and courting disappointment - if we believe it must be the kind of impassioned attachment that happened years ago.

If looked at that way, couldn't it mean that “lighter” friendships can be as satisfying in their way? A friend for movies? Another for hiking? One for sushi? Combine and mix them up now and then? Or not?

I have one friend I've been meeting for lunch once every week or two for more than a year. We never spend longer than an hour at it, sometimes others are included, mostly not and we have never done anything else together. It seems to be comfortable for each of us the way it is and I would miss her if those lunches stopped.

Our lives are different in many ways in old age. I wonder, then, if it is as much a mistake to expect new friendships to be as intense now as in our younger years as it is to expect to jump as high or run as fast we once could.

But then, what do I know? Not much about this except one thing for sure: a friendship of any degree must be nurtured. Frequently. And that is best done in person. But if it can't be, other kinds of being together help a whole lot.

What do you think? Other thoughts?

Comments

I started crying when I saw the title of today's post in Twitter. A dear friend passed a couple of years ago, she was like my soul sister, and I have had a hole in my heart and life ever since. Yes, I have friends, but she was different.

I have excuses and/or reasons why I don't have a best friend. What I don't have it a best friend. That said, I have good friends online that are precious to me. And my Prince Charming hubby is my life.

There are many acquaintances in my life, some of whom I've been close enough to at times to call them friends, and some who will always be just acquaintances. Some are the most caring and loving friends, but only one who has been part of my life for many years. But even she keeps part of herself private from me...which is surprising, but I've had to accept it. Back in the 70s we had support groups of people with different identifications, where we got to know people pretty well in a short time, and offered comfort and yes, support. (Addictions, codependency, women, parents without partners, eating and weight loss, to name a few.) I now feel I have a "tribe" of folks who share some interests, and I'm comfortable with them. I'd hate to lose that sense of community they provide. A couple of them are now close to being best friends!

I recently moved to a retirement community. My contemporaries say “I’m not ready” or worse “I don’t want to live around all of those old people”. Living in a community, maybe you won’t find a ‘best’ friend but you can find companionship. It decreases the isolation of aging. Related to the last blog post on finding a primary doctor, most communities also have medical support. A doctor who knows the concerns of older people. I understand that not everyone can or wants to do this. But if you are considering a move, sooner is better than later.

I moved to a retirement community too, almost a year ago, and though I enjoy some of the women I've met here on a very surface level, I doubt any of them will become close friends. I lost my husband and both my brothers five years ago -- all three within six months -- so that added to my feeling of aloneness. I'm in New Jersey, near one of my three children, but she has a busy life of her own.

So over Thanksgiving I drove to Boston and New Hampshire, both places I lived a long time, and saw my other two kids and some dear old friends. It was wonderful. Thank God for email and Facebook to stay in touch with them and college friends.

I am grateful for my two best gal pals; friendships of over 40 years. We are in daily contact via phone because we are geographically far apart. For my other "people fix", it's a wonderful mix of acquaintances...my convenient store guys invite me to baby showers, holiday parties...they call to see if I'm ok if they haven't seen me. They are just the best, people, not best friends. In my friendship mix are some ladies from, groups, neighbors, workman of long standing. Being solo, a recent widow, this random mix of folks have been there for me when needed. I'm not looking for a bestie, these good folks are just the very best.

I work in a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community), and I will say that the biggest advantage to living in a place like this is the opportunity for social engagement. There are many folks who live here in independent living (IL) who are unable to get off our campus very often. Their families often live at a distance and don’t get to visit much. But the residents here support each other, look out for each other, and rally around when there is difficulty. When there is a death, there is tremendous support, both immediately after and long term. They also share daily casual conversations and interactions that would never happen if they were still living in their previous homes.

So many people don’t want to go to “a facility” – but I can’t think of a place I would rather be when I get a little older! I went down to the dining room one afternoon last week, and there were two IL residents having coffee together. It was a man and a woman, both in their 90’s, and both widowed. It was a rainy, dreary, depressing afternoon, but they were laughing hard and having such a wonderful time together! It really struck me that, besides the health care support that is provided in a CCRC, the friendships that happen are precious and worth every penny that is paid to be here!

I don’t think you are ever too old for friends.




I worked as an office manager for an urban church for many years. I answered the phones and greeted people when they came to the church during the week. Many of these people became friends as we shared the same concerns and values. For some people, I was the only person who greeted them with a cheerful smile and an open ear between Sundays. For me it was a ministry of hospitality and I truly loved my job.
As a life-long introvert, it was a perfect job for me. I got to meet and talk to lots of smart, socially-conscious, dedicated people one-to-one for a limited time while they were waiting to see clergy members or attend meetings. I got to know many of them very well over the years and since retiring and moving away, I have missed them and the community we shared..
I was lucky enough at 60 to meet a remarkable man with whom I share many life experiences and similar values. He, too, is an introvert and we are, for each other, both lovers and best friends. I feel quite comfortable with the idea of having casual friends and acquaintances and have made peace with the idea of never having another best friend should something happen to him.
I can certainly see how an extrovert would miss these kinds of connections but I enjoy my time alone and do quite well with reduced social interaction. As one of my good friends says, "Life is good and getting better."

"Our lives are different in many ways in old age. I wonder, then, if it is as much a mistake to expect new friendships to be as intense now as in our younger years as it is to expect to jump as high or run as fast we once could."

Thank you for this comment, Ronni. Memories may feed into us with a more passionate reflection of friendship because we've lived enough years to know how vitally important good friends are to our well-being. An intensity in friendship may give way to a deep appreciation of friendship in later years.

An extreme introvert, I've not met or made any friends since I moved here 10 years ago. I'm 73, and although I managed to buy a little 2-bedroom house in a nice suburban neighborhood, the neighbors are all younger working people who are usually gone during the day. I'd love to move to a little house or condo in a retirement community and have neighbors -- and maybe friends -- my age, but in the Denver metro, such communities are insanely expensive (at least for someone coming here from Okla.). As it is, the only adults I talk to are my son and his wife, doctors, and store clerks. That's been fine so far, but as I get older, I worry that it's not enough.

Someone wrote that "sooner rather than later" was best for moving to assisted care, and I worry a bit about that. I live surrounded by nature, and it is such a blessing, energizer, good friend to me that I'm loathe to give it up while I am physically able. I also feel that it really helps to keep me physically fit, as there's a lot of work.(I'm 73) I have several close friends, and a larger group of good friend/acquaintances. As Ronni said, not as intense as when younger.

Maintaining friendships here in a rural area always means driving by one, the other, or both. So I hope to drive as long as possible. A call from a friend, a note, card, meeting up, these are always things for which I feel deeply grateful. I love a lot of solitude, but without friends it would devolve into loneliness.

As I'm reading and thinking about your post, Ronni, and your comments, everyone, it strikes me that "timing" is part of the difficulty when we have to make new friends later in life. When you're younger, you're in a cohort that is experiencing all those major life events at the same time, together—going to school, driving a car, getting a job, falling in love, etc. There are plenty of people around who are going through the same experience at the same time, so there are plenty of opportunities to make those meaningful connections.

And even later in life, if you suffer a divorce or a job loss or other life-changing event, you might not experience it at the same time as your age cohort, but there are support groups and programs that form around these events, so it's not impossible to find a new cohort.

But simple friendship remains challenging later in life, because, surprisingly, there's not an understood forum for letting people know you're looking for a friend. On a dating site, people know you're looking for love. In a grief support group, people know you've suffered a loss. But the other activities and groups we use for friend-making are formed for some other explicit purpose—classes, hiking, travel, etc. So some (maybe most) people are there just to learn or do or see, and they aren't quite open to making room for a new friendship. There aren't "friendship sites" or groups you attend for the purpose of being matched up with a friend—and it probably wouldn't work anyway if there were.

I suppose that's the nature of friendship. Somehow you have to be intentional about it, but you also have to let it just happen. :)

I have in the past 2 or so years been in the grim situation of having virtually all my good friends [all former colleagues--which goes to show how a social life in my world has been tied to a professional one] here -- retire and move away. Since I am an introvert and usually have felt most comfortable alone, usually trying to write - I have not felt too bereft. But increasingly I do. I've joined groups, in the hopes of making friends - a peace group, for example - but within short order what my mother-in-law used to call a "couples society" had become apparent. I was, it seemed, the only single person there, or at least the only one who was alone. It became uncomfortable, and I stopped going.

I retired in the spring of 2013. With the peeling away of my friends becoming the norm, I keep trying to think how to find new friends. I too have a lunch friend, a former colleague who is also retired but who is deeply engaged in her new passion of taiko -- still, we deliberately set up a lunch a month to get together, and it is wonderful. Even she said recently that maybe we should expand our get-togethers, see each other perhaps more than once. I'd love that.

What I particularly miss is someone to go places with me - to the theater or the cinema, to a concert, etc. - not because I am hesitant to go alone, simply because it is a lot more fun. So, now that my regular concert-going friend has retired and moved, I decided to buy two tickets to the two series I attend of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, just about my favorite orchestra nowadays -- knowing I will be happy either with someone, if I can find someone, or, if necessary, going by myself. The prices are reasonable; the rewards enormous.

Still, it all feels pretty puny. I learn from and am most appreciative for the comments as well as for Ronni's ruminations about friendship in old age. But we are all so different, it seems to me - which is just fine. Maybe the problem is not solvable. I am just not sure.

My best friend, since I was in my early 20s passed away 2 years ago from breast cancer. She had moved to Oregon from where we grew up, in her mid 50s following a nasty divorce.
I was happy for her when she met a lovely man and remarried but when my husband passed away she was too busy to drive up and spend time with me.
At that point I realized that I was much more invested in keeping our friendship going than she was. It was a sad occasion for me. When family goes back to their lives is when you count on friends to help in the dark moments.
When she was diagnosed with cancer I spent a great deal of time with her. She was a collector of stuff and I helped her with numerous garage sales.
She had an opportunity to enroll in an experimental breast cancer study that helped her live for 10 more years. I was crushed when she passed away.
I worked with 80 percent men during my career with Ma Bell and had limited opportunity to make women friends there but still tried. Ma Bell has wonderful volunteer programs to help others so there are plenty of chances to be with old work friends.
Still I miss my best friend a lot.

How lucky I am to live in low-income senior housing! I rent from Seattle Housing Authority an apartment in a building set aside for seniors (and a few disabled folks). It's very affordable, clean and safe and well-maintained. We are not supervised or organized as in retirement homes but enjoy autonomy as long as we can take care of ourselves - and each other. I am lucky that the waiting list was only six months when I moved here - now it's three years! Do other cities have these housing programs?
Tenants are carefully screened, come from various backgrounds, and some do hole up in their apartments with the TV and seldom emerge. But a few of us have met while waiting for laundry or at the bus stop. We have few relatives, old friends are far away, we don't drive, and can no longer afford to go to the theater or eat out very often. We make the most of the senior center, the public library, and concerts in the park in summer. We do look out for each other, as in shopping or cooking for someone who is sick, or accompanying them to the doctor. We share what we can't use - food, clothes, books, magazines, etc. As a former secretary I am able to help out with forms and bureaucracies. We accept each other's flaws and foibles, not expecting too much, careful not to play "Ain't It Awful?".
You are right: those more intense best-friend/partner relationships were part of youth and midlife. Now we don't demand everything from one person. Now we are aging, more or less all in the same boat, and if we are wise, we are not as picky as we once were. We are coping, sharing creative solutions, keeping each other cheerful, and realizing that we'd better stick together and make the best of it, because none of us is going to get out of this alive!

My best friend of over 40 years (we met in grammar school) recently moved to take care of elderly parents. A couple of good friends turned out to not be so good in the wake of major life changes. When I entered early retirement, I not only needed to make a new life but make some new friends, too. Neither task has been easy.

Since I retired, I have kept busy with classes, volunteer work and a book club. I am beginning to make, I hope, some friends, at least aquaintances, thru the classes I am taking.

A blogger, Dr. Kathy Jordan, had 5 really good suggestions for making new friends in midlife: 1. admit you are lonely; 2. decide what kind of friend you want to be; 3. reflect on the qualities you are looking for in a friend; 4. become a joiner and 5. invite people over for dinner. I mention this because I not only think these are very practical and insightful suggestions but it is helping me to avoid some mistakes I made after retirement in being too friendly with people who turned out to be people I just didn't care to be around.

It's also the losses, too. When I lost the friendship of 2 women who had been friends for years, it took time to process the anger and the grief.

With email and FB, it's easier to keep in touch with my BFF who moved out of state.

I have two elderly (much older than me) friends, both widowed. Neither knows the other, but they both have had a similar idea and it's worked so beautifully.

The first friend would gather up all the single ladies after church, whether widowed or never married, and invite them to lunch. They call themselves the Lunch Bunch. The group has grown and become quite large. They sometimes go to a restaurant and sometimes to one of the ladies' homes. They look out for each other.

The other friend whom I've only known a couple of years is widowed and she has started a Merry Widows Club. You can only join if you are a widow. The population ebbs and flows as the widows are quite elderly--80+ years. They too watch out for one another.

In both groups, these ladies have made amazing friends.

I spent Thanksgiving with a hiking friend and someone I didn't know at all - a young hiker I met at church who was happy to be invited. It was a beautiful autumn day and the scenery was gorgeous. After a hike of two miles we had a picnic in the state park then went to my house to play a new game I was terrible at. Lots of fun and it pleased all three of us. I have no local family. This kind of holiday is just perfect for me.

Some of my friends could be "best" friends if they didn't have husbands/children who matter to them more. But these women are "very good" friends and offer to help me should I need it. I also belong to a 12-Step program where we share very personal information about the past and present. This makes for a level of intimacy and honesty that is frequently not possible elsewhere.

I just learned my vision is failing. Somewhere down the road I won't be able to drive. Since I live in a rural setting, I have to drive everywhere I go. This morning I applied to live in a retirement community in town where I'll be able to walk to places when I cannot drive. Three liberal church friends already live there but I intend to BE a friend to others.

I believe that to make new friends at anytime in life but especially now we have to "make the first move". So many of us are afraid of rejection. By this point in life we have experienced it and taught ourselves how to avoid it. There are so many of us waiting for "the other" to make the first move......a stalemate situation. Decide not to take rejection personally and extend the hand of friendship. Nothing ventured nothing gained!

I have some friends..a couple pretty close, but when I look back, my Mother was my truly best friend and I lost her far too early, as she had me late in life (39). I miss her to this day. I think we have to be satisfied with "light" friendship now and pets are our best friends in many ways now.

This struck home. I've lost many close friends in the last few years. I'm 73. So many - I had to go into grief counseling for quite a while. I find shared memories are missing from new friendships but the warmth and affection can run deep given time.

Recently I initiated a new friendship with one of the bookclub members who us 20 year younger than I and we went to a concert together.

Also I'm in alcohol recovery for over 30 years and this creates odd but fulfilling friendships in that my youngest friend ( she refers to me as her "bestie") is one age with my granddaughter. We literally hang out together and have the same black humour.

I had to open my heart in so many ways after the multiple deaths of dear ones. The price of aging. But it takes effort and putting my inner geezer in a drawer and being open to watching the Gilmore Girls with my young friend and just taking joy in her delight and nothing else. Hard for this opinionated old fart but so worth it.

And I'm on a waiting list for a subsidized senior residence which has both ocean and lake views. And war brides of 90+. Can hardly wait to chat to them.

XO
WWW

Your blog post here (and the previous one you linked to) really hit me. I'm struggling with finding new local best friends to fill the hole left behind after two best friends moved (one a year ago and the other 10 years ago!) Recently wrote a blog post about how Making New Friends as an Empty Nester can be Awkward.

I have friends from various activities - work buddies, scrapbooking friends, book club friends, out-to-lunch friends, etc. , and they're all very nice. But I, too, am looking for a once-in-a-blue-moon friend who truly "gets" me and has the same sense of humor. Laughter is important!

Although there are acquaintances that you can go out and attend an activity with, I see right away that those people aren't really interested in my life like a special friend is. You tell them something one time and they never remember it -- but a special friend remembers all your stories (sometimes better than you do) and really cares.

The more I read your comments, other blogs, women's magazines, etc., it seems like there's an epidemic in America of nice women looking for a "second sister" type of friend. If only we could all live in the same town and meet each other!

My reaction is not to give up. though. It's like dating (you have to meet a lot of toads to find a prince). I want to cling to hope that there's a really compatible friend out there just waiting to meet me!

One of the advantages of being an Introvert is the ability to spend huge amounts of time alone. That doesn't mean not having a close friend, however. My dad had book plates that read "a friend of books is never without a friend." Apparently, he was an Introvert too. These days, my best friend is my husband of almost 35 years. Long may it last.

Melanie,

There actually are sites (a lot like dating sites) where you can sign up to meet platonic female friends. One is Girlfriend Social, which is free. That's where I met my most recent best friend -- and we had 3 great years together before she moved!

What an invaluable topic! I've experienced a lot of what's described here and come to many of the same conclusions - the most important for me being that like almost everything else at this age, we are tasked with redefining our lives, almost completely. And since there are fewer distractions, it feels enormous. I also have come to believe this is the time of life we're meant to learn to hold life more lightly and prepare to let go so, yes, friendships are a big part of that process. Hard hard work for most... Us introverts have it a little easier I think.

I've found, for me, redefining my sense of Purpose is very important, and weaving in new creative pursuits. Both encourage finding and interacting with new friends. I don't want to become so busy that I lose my time for reflection and integrating all the little bits and pieces of my life... With the goal of being able to let go of the past and exploring the new... New everything!

And I've been reading, and rereading the books of Kathleen Dowling Singh and find a great deal of comfort in them; The Grace in Aging, The Grace in Dying, and her newest The Grace in Living. They speak to what so many are sharing here.

Thank you Ronni!

What really helps to keep me going is having long telephone conversations with my two best friends who live close by, a very dear friend who lives far away, and my sister. We will converse about anything and everything for as long as an hour. My children and grandchildren text, mostly, and really are not into the art of telephone conversation, but I consider it a real blessing.

Re reading all the comments I realize that many of us describe ourselves as introverts. I know I am ant it seems to weigh on my daughter.
I've mentioned that I live with my daughters family and that we built a large house together with an apartment for me.
I help with cooking shopping and do her laundry -she's a massage therapist and brings home at least 6 sets of sheets towels and face covers every working day. I wash dry and fold her massage laundry and pack it back into the Costco sized tote bags for the next day.
Anyhow my daughter frets about my being so isolated, worries that I'm an introvert and have no friends.
The thing is... I'm pretty content. I don't mind being alone so long as I have a book, music and an occasional TV program.
Recently I spent some time with my first high school boyfriend. He came to Oregon for a week visit. We went to my sisters sons wedding together and had a good time. So he returned for a longer visit around Thanksgiving. It turned out to be much too long. What was nice for a week became irritating for close to 3 weeks! My little apartment is much too small for 2 people, he snorted loudly and I finally introduced him to our guest bedroom downstairs.
He also is a staunch Republican though he didn't vote for * he says. I've been quite depressed following the election and JW kept telling me to get over it, accept the reality and not worry so much about Medicare, about conservation, about global climate change and all the things that honestly concern me with this elections results.
We had a pretty big argument about my being depressed etc and moving him to the guest room was the final blow to his ego I think.
Then he sulked and drank quite a bit. It wasn't a happy second visit and there won't be a third.
This was a real eye opening experience for me. I really thought I wanted a couple relationship again but maybe I actually just want occasional sex. That part was ok.
Where the heck does a 73 year go for occasional sex?
I'll have to ponder this and meanwhile thought I'd throw the question out here on Ronnies blog.
Wow I needed to dump!
Elle

Great topic. As I got older, I realized I spent too much time looking for the "perfect" friend, acquaintance, companion, and learned that I was wasting my time. I read somewhere that a friend is like a pie. You can't throw out the whole thing just because one of the pieces is too narrow. So, now I'm trying to be more realistic and accept people as they are - not as I want them to be. I decided to get out and find things that gave me joy and along the way I met some interesting people and new friends. After a health problem, I am now a walker. So, I'm out every day walking in different locations. And what do you know? I actually have met two people who are now very good friends. Maybe it's partly the exercise, but I really feel more content. And that makes me a better listener and friend to others. That was the key for me. I forgot how to reach out and be a good friend.

blogqueendiane,

Thank you for the site recommendation! I will check that out.

At 50 I made a new friend as we agreed to bicycle together up the Strand in SoCal every Friday. We discussed everything as we wheeled along --- husbands, kids, etc. With friends our two couples went on four bike trips in our sixties and seventies. I suggest finding a friend with whom you do something ....be it athletics or volunteering....which will cement your friendship. Mine has endured into the eighties intact!

You put into words-what I have wondered about. Do I NEED to "break in" a new best friend. Sometimes I want to be alone and, yes, reflect. Have many acquaintances and a couple of friends to share some time with. And we help each other out through various hard times. College friends, dear and close as they were, ARE no more.

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